Implementing a High Performance Work System

This is an excerpt of a paper I wrote while working on my MBA. To read the entire article, download the PDFImplementing a High Performance Work System.”

High Performance Work System is a name given to a set of management practices that attempt to create an environment within an organization where the employee has greater involvement and responsibility. More specifically, HPWS has been defined by Bohlander et al (2004) as “a specific combination of HR practices, work structures, and processes that maximizes employee knowledge, skill, commitment and flexibility” (Bohlander & Snell, 2004, p. 690).

Barnes (2001) writes that the concept and ideas for high performance work systems has existed for quite some time and has its roots in the late twentieth century amid the upheaval in the United States manufacturing environment (Barnes, 2001, p. 2). During this period, the manufacturing industry in America had realized that global competition had arrived and they needed to rethink the ‘tried and true’ manufacturing processes. The concepts that arose out of these turbulent times are items that eventually would become key components of a high performance work system.

The first component is the concept of “increased opportunity to participate in decisions” (Barnes, p. 9) for employees. The ability for an employee to participate in the decision making process is considered to be one of the key elements of an HPWS because it allows the employee to make decisions that effect their immediate environment, which in turn effect the entire organization. This participation provides leads to employees feeling more empowered, which leads to a more committed workforce, at least in theory.

The second component is training. This training provides employees with the necessary skills to perform their jobs in a more effective manner as well as the opportunity to assume greater responsibility within an organization. Training also gives organizations a way to cross-train employees in different skills and roles to ensure that employees understand many roles within an organization.

The third component is employee incentives. The two previous elements help to prepare employees and organizations for successful HPWS implementation and operation, but without incentives, the system will most likely fail. Organizations need to find a way to link pay with performance in order to incentivize an employee to focus “on outcomes that are beneficial to themselves and the organization as a whole” (Bohlander & Snell, 2004, p. 698). Incentives can take many forms, with some examples being stock options and other equity plans, profit sharing plans, pay raises, bonuses for meeting performance targets and other monetary incentives.In addition, incentives can take the form of non-monetary options such as time off, flextime, group lunches and other special employee benefits.

In addition to the three components of involvement, training and incentives, there is also a fourth element that makes up another key component of modern day high performance work systems. Technology is everywhere in the world today and must be considered as part of any organizational development exercise. Within high performance work systems, technology does not have to be leading edge technology solutions, but it does provide an “infrastructure for communicating and sharing information vital to business performance” (Bohlander & Snell, 2004, p. 699).


  • Barnes, W. F. (2001). The challenge of implementing and sustaining high performance work systems in the United States: An evolutionary analysis of I/N Tek and Kote. Doctoral dissertation : University of Notre Dame.
  • Bohlander, G., & Snell, S. (2004). Managing human resources (13th ed.). Mason, OH: Thomson/South-Western.
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